Quick Thoughts – Experiencing History With Sega Ages Herzog Zwei

The main title screen for Herzog Zwei

Herzog Zwei is a game I’ve heard about for years but never got around to playing it. I love Real-Time Strategy games, having grown up with the genre in the 90s with games like Command & Conquer: Red Alert and Starcraft. Along with Dune II, Herzog Zwei was the RTS that people referenced but I never had the opportunity to see it in action. As part of the Sega Ages collection on the Nintendo Switch, I finally got my hands on the game and I see what all the hype was about.

My fighter jet hovering over an outpost about to collect a unit, with multiple units surrounding it.

I was expecting a story in Herzog Zwei but there isn’t really one. You can play as one of two sides in the game (one Red, the other Blue) and there are eight maps, each with four variations. The objective as the player is to win each of the maps by destroying the opponent’s home base. There are outposts that can be controlled which gives you money and makes it easier to prep more units to use. It’s pretty standard RTS but there is actually a lot of depth to it. 

Because of the limitations when the game originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1989, you can’t simply build multiple units and then unleash them on your enemy. You build one unit at a time, then transport them to where you need them on the map and let them do their thing. Also, unlike the more popular RTS games of the late 90s, you as the commander, are a transforming mech. This is really interesting because when you’re on the ground, your mech can attack other ground units. Then, when you transform into a fighter jet, the form you’ll spend most of your time as you can attack the other commander in their jet and other air-attack units. 

There are a lot of units to choose from, ranging from anti-air tanks to infantry. From the time I spent trying out the different units, there doesn’t really seem to be a clear balance, and I relied much more on my tanks than the other units, using Infantry only to capture neutral and enemy outposts. 

The end battle of a mission in Herzog Zwei, an enemy base is destroyed

As mentioned previously, you can begin building units at any time but only one unit at a time. You can only collect units when hovering over one of your outposts or your main base. You also can only carry one unit at a time. These limitations do take some getting used to but it adds another layer to the strategy. The more expensive the unit, the longer it takes, so you really need to think about what you build, when you build it, and where you want to send it.

Another surprisingly deep aspect is the sheer number of command options each unit has. These range from directing your units to stay in position and defend, circle a certain area and attack when necessary, to attack the enemy base. When you build a unit, you give it their initial instruction. In order to change them, your fighter must pick it up then issue the change order. These changes cost money, so it’s important to not choose the wrong command and waste additional time and money.

The maps themselves are pretty well varied and add to the challenge. In maps where there is water, you’ll want to deploy gun boats as protection. On the snow and ice map, your units (and you as the mech) will slide on the slippery surfaces. It was a really welcomed

From what I’ve gathered, Herzog Zwei was well received but also incredibly tough to learn and manage. Thankfully, the Sega Ages version of the game comes with a pretty decent series of 12 tutorial missions that give you a pretty good grasp of the game’s controls and gameplay mechanics. But, it still took me a few plays before I felt super comfortable with the controls and even longer to get a decent command on the game’s mechanics.

An early screen from the Herzog Zwei tutorial mode.

I could see myself going back to Herzog Zwei every once in a while and I strongly encourage those who have heard about the game but never actually played it to try it out. There are some really interesting RTS mechanics and it’s nice to see what so many other games in the genre drew as inspiration later down the road.